Something Human: A Conversation with Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell
Echoes of the past reverberate throughout the films of Canadian auteur Sofia Bohdanowicz. Working as a director, writer, cinematographer, editor, and producer, frequently in collaboration with actor Deragh Campbell, she has made four acclaimed features and ten short films that are love letters to the objects and memories she holds sacred. Her style draws on documentary, fiction, essay films, and detective stories, tying these eclectic elements together with the theme of excavation. Whether exhuming her family history, reimagining the life of a Parisian astrologer, or capturing her personal process of grief, her films investigate the mysteries beneath the surface of the everyday.
In her debut feature, Never Eat Alone (2016), Bohdanowicz cast her grandmother to play a version of herself, a woman who enlists her granddaughter to help her track down a lost love. The film marked the first time Bohdanowicz teamed up with Campbell, who had earned acclaim in independent films such as Matthew Porterfield’s I Used to Be Darker. Campbell embodies the director’s alter ego, Audrey Benac, a perpetually curious woman who uncovers buried knowledge about her family. Since working together on Never Eat Alone, Bohdanowicz and Campbell have become close creative partners, cowriting and codirecting a series of shorts and features (including MS Slavic 7 and Veslemøy’s Song) centered on Audrey’s quests. Taken together, their work calls to mind the formal and intellectual rigor of Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda, filmmakers who used cinema to discover new ways of exploring their own lives.
Reflecting on the evolution of their collaborative friendship, Bohdanowicz and Campbell both describe it as a great love story, built on the intellectual, artistic, and emotional chemistry they immediately felt when they first met each other at Toronto’s TIFF Cinematheque ten years ago. To mark the arrival of a collection of their films (as well as Bohdanowicz’s solo directorial efforts) on the Criterion Channel, I spoke with the two women about the paths that led them to each other and the artistic values they share.
Given the intimacy of your work together, I’d love to know more about what drew you to each other. Was there something you recognized in each other that felt familiar when you first met?
Bohdanowicz: Toronto’s film culture has developed in such a beautiful way and now has a real sense of community, but before I’d made my own work, I had a hard time finding my place in the city’s mix of cinephiles and filmmakers. When Deragh entered the filmmaking world in Toronto, it became a lot warmer for me. Whenever I’d run into her at the cinematheque or at a party, talking to her made me feel grounded, like I had found my footing. I finally found someone who was speaking the same language and just vibrating on the same frequency that I wanted to be on. Then, when I saw her in I Used to Be Darker, I was bowled over by how incredibly talented she was and by the delicacy of her performance. I was so enamored with it that I was a little intimidated to ask if she would perform alongside my grandmother in my first feature, Never Eat Alone. I was very lucky that she accepted.
Campbell: One thing I noticed early on about Sofia—before she even invited me to work with her—was that she really cared for the lives of her films and honored them and the people who worked on them. A lot of people feel entitled to space at the biggest film festivals, but I saw that Sofia was finding new spaces for her films and making arrangements to get them seen. It wasn’t an egotistical thing; she was doing it for her films, and I found that beautiful. And when she invited me to work on Never Eat Alone, she had such amazing instincts for what needs to happen to create the environment she wants to see on-screen, which made what I had to do as a performer very clear. I quickly realized that she and I have extremely similar goals for how we want to feel around other people and how we want to make other people feel.
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